A Trip to the Smokies: Where Can We Go?
Good news for lovers of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: US 441, the road which goes up to Newfound Gap, has been reopened on the Tennessee side.
After a period of torrential rain-fall during this past month a landslide occurred on the Noth Carolina side and caused the road to be shut down. The slide will take a considerable amount of time to repair and a time table for the complete re-opening of the road has not yet been announced but that doesn’t mean visitors should be deturred from coming to the park.
Full access to every area of the park on the Tennessee side remains available, which means visitors still have an opportunity to drive, hike, camp, and explore through some of the most beautiful parts of the Smokies.
Elkmont is one of the best places to camp in the park. For those wishing to experience the wooded serenity of the Smokies but still have access to restrooms with running water and flush toilets, fire grates, and picnic tables staying in the Elkmont campground is a great experience and only costs around $20.
For hikers or more adventurous backpackers looking to camp in the backcountry there are several trails and campsites to choose from in the Elkmont region. Jakes Creek is a quiet winding path that follows a lush creek up the mountainside and has a campsite available to backpackers by reservation. The Little River trail is another great hike especially for those inexperienced hikers as it consists of a flat gravel road that parallels a roaring river through the hardwoods.
If you visit Elkmont be sure to go and look at the historic houses that remain from the community that existed here before the establishment of the National Park and during it’s early days.
The Greenbrier area of the park has become popular to hikers and picnickers alike. The 4-mile trip to the Ramsey Cascades waterfall is well worth the walk. Grapeyard Ridge and Brushy Mountain, which connects to the Trillium Gap trail on Mt. LeConte, are also excellent moderate hikes.
With spring just around the corner it’s worth noting that Greenbrier and specifically the Porters Creek area have the most beautiful displays of wildflowers anywhere in the world. Trilliums, Lady Slippers, and the famous Fringed Phacelia will sparkle the landscape around March and April.
Arguably the most popular destination in the entire park, Cades Cove is a majestic valley that is encircled by lower peaks of the Smokies. This section alone attracts more than two million visitors each year to see the scenic views and wildlife it offers.
There are more historic churches, houses, and farmsteads in Cades Cove than anywhere else in the park and most all of them are within easy walking distance of the loop road that rounds the valley. The “loop” is 11 miles and is a favorite of auto-tourists because it provides an abundance of things to see from the comfort of an automobile.
Hundreds of deer and bears inhabit this region of the park and if wildlife is one of your top priorities to see then Cades Cove is probably your best bet to see these animals in the wild.
Hikers also have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the terrain of Cades Cove including trails to famous Abrams Falls and the haven for flaming azalea wildflowers- Gregory Bald.
Cherokee Orchard & Roaring Fork
This is another place where auto-touring is very enjoyable. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail winds through the base of Mt. LeConte and offers several historic sites and scenic pull-offs along the way.
For those wanting to hike Mt. LeConte there are several trails in this area that end on the summit of the mountain. Bullhead, Rainbow Falls, and Trillium Gap all climb to the top of LeConte. If you don’t want to make the whole trip to the top there are a couple great sights, Grotto Falls (1 mile) and Rainbow Falls (2.7 miles), that can be accessed with shorter hikes on these trails.
This region is part of the highest elevation area of the Smoky Mountains and provides some of the most breathtaking views of broad landscapes. It’s also one of the few places in the park with a spruce-fir forest. Red spruce and Fraser Fir trees are able to grow better in this seemingly harsh mountain top environment than anywhere else.
Newfound Gap is the place where Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the National Park and a monument still stands there on the mountain top today. Also, the Appalachian trail goes right through Newfound Gap and hikers often pick this spot to start their ventures to scenic Charlies Bunion or Mt. LeConte via the Boulevard trail.
Don’t let the news of the landslide or the cold winter weather keep you from visiting the Smokies. All the above areas are open now and winter is one of the prettiest times of year to see the mountains. Remember it’s just a short drive to the park from Pigeon Forge so be sure to take some time during your visit with us to go and check it out.